Lawyers for Olivia de Havilland, 101, Make Her Case in FX Lawsuit over Feud: Bette and Joan
The legendary actress sued FX last June over what she contends is an unauthorized and inaccurate portrayal of her in the miniseries
Olivia de Havilland‘s lawsuit against FX is coming down to semantics.
On Tuesday, respective attorneys for the 101-year-old actress and the cable channel appeared at a California Court of Appeal hearing to argue whether de Havilland’s lawsuit against producers of the miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan can move forward — and according to Variety, a significant chunk of time was spent debating whether there is a difference between the actress calling her sister a “bitch” and calling her a “dragon lady.”
De Havilland, who lives in Paris, sued FX last June over what she contends is an unauthorized and inaccurate portrayal of her in the show; in August, a state superior court judge turned down FX’s request to have the suit thrown out. FX appealed, which led to Tuesday’s hearing.
Per Variety, de Havilland’s lawyer complained that the actress is portrayed as a hypocrite and gossip, who spoke disparagingly of friends and acquaintances such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and her sister, Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who died in December 2013 at the age of 96.
The two had a famously difficult relationship. In 2016, de Havilland opened up to PEOPLE in honor of her 100th birthday, saying of Fontaine, “She was a brilliant person, very gifted and, alas, [had] an astigmatism in her perception of both people and situations, which could cause and did cause great distress in others. I was among those and eventually this brought about an estrangement between us which did not change in the last years of her life.”
A key issue in the lawsuit is the fact that de Havilland’s character (played in the series by Catherine Zeta-Jones) used the word “bitch” in reference to Fontaine, while de Havilland’s lawyer argued no record exists of de Havilland ever using the word, much less to identify Fontaine.
According to Variety, Judge Halim Dhanidina, one of three judges on the panel, asked de Havilland’s attorney, “Is there a substantial difference between calling someone a bitch and calling her a dragon lady?” to which de Havilland’s attorney replied, “Yes, there is, your honor. In my household, if you say the word ‘bitch,’ you get your mouth washed out.”
In response, FX’s lawyer reportedly argued that the use of the word is neither overly obscene nor out-of-character for the real-life de Havilland, citing on-the-record comments that de Havilland has made referring to Fontaine as a “dragon lady.” He also noted that de Havilland’s character is only on screen in 18 of the series’ 402 minutes and claimed producers had changed “dragon lady” to “bitch” because they felt the two words were interchangeable.
The court did not make a decision on whether or not the suit will move forward, Variety reports.
Last year, creator Ryan Murphy acknowledged in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that he did not contact de Havilland, the only living person who was depicted as a major character on the show, about Feud. Instead, he said her portrayal in the series (she was played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) was based on Murphy’s own research, including an interview he conducted with Davis shortly before her death in 1989.
“I didn’t write Olivia because I didn’t want to be disrespectful and ask her, ‘Did this happen? Did that happen? What was your take on that?’ ” he said. “I didn’t want to intrude.”
Reps for Fox, Murphy and de Havilland did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.